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Holograms in eye of beholder

My new-old pal Don Ryburn, I decided, had finally spent way too many hours sitting in a full-lotus position at his Painted Elk Book Store in Lakeland.

Sitting all those hours with your heels pressed into your groin, I reasoned, would make anybody hallucinate.

And even though the New Age touch at Painted Elk leans heavily toward the American Indian side of the mystical, there is still enough going on at the touchy-feely metaphysical level to assume that somebody somewhere is doing, has just finished or is seriously contemplating some serious mantra-repetition.

And, as far as I could figure, there was no American Indian touch to the large black-and-white poster with a note inviting you to hold a long string on the center of the poster to the end of your nose, back up until the string was taut and then stare at the poster until miraculous things happened.

Miraculous things have happened to me while staring at posters, but that was during the '60s and it took more than string.

I simply couldn't see what the fuss was about.

During the intervening year or so, I have seen people standing and looking at similar weird patterns. Their facial expressions always led me to believe they were either transfixed, puzzled or had gotten the Preparation H mixed up with the Ben-Gay.

At a Pinellas County mall, Wife and I found an entire store given over to holograms and "random-dot stereograms," which is what the computer-converted aforementioned posters are actually called.

Artists, I was told, draw pictures of geometrical shapes or wildlife scenes or monuments like the Statue of Liberty and then run them through a computer software program that transforms them into something that looks like a combination of a San Francisco seismograph and a Richard Nixon polygraph.

The initiated, I was promised, could actually see three-dimensional pictures in all of this.

Yeah, I thought, just like some true believers can see the face of Jesus in a browning tortilla and Elvis' shadow in a NASA Mars photograph.

"I have to admit," I said to thin air, "I just don't get these. I think they are some gigantic goof like performance art, and eventually we will learn that some guy in Los Angeles has become fabulously wealthy selling them and laughing at people who think they see things in them."

"You have to know how to look at them," said a passing customer, who then gave me a short course that kept me transfixed nearly an hour.

Her method was to look steadily at your own reflection in the glass covering the poster. "Give your mind a chance to start to assemble the picture. As soon as you start seeing depth, start to investigate the picture."


Immediately I began seeing something that looked like a soft-sculptured dinosaur covered in red stucco on the poster. Then I saw another dinosaur . . . and a landing pterodactyl with one foot on a tree limb.

I moved to another poster, and saw the New York skyline . . . another, dolphins playing.

With a whoop I realized that I was now one of the inner circle.

I thought of withholding my newfound talent and not sharing the method. What's the fun of being esoteric if you let everybody in on the mystery.

But I couldn't resist and went around spreading the gospel according to saint-helpful customer.

There are other methods of getting the pictures to come out, I am told, and I have to develop one. I found an entire book of them at a store in Tampa, but couldn't see the pictures because there was no reflection to concentrate on.

I tried to rig something with my eyeglasses, a piece of chewing-gum tinfoil and the wrapper from a Halls Eucalyptus Cough Drop, until I realized that people had begun to stare.

Maybe they thought if they looked long enough something significant would come to view.

Jan Glidewell is a columnist for North Suncoast editions of the Times.